Are They Willing to Confront State Lawmakers on Behalf of Public Schools? Why Local School Board Elections Are So Important in 2020 for Every NC School System


Throughout North Carolina, 2020 is another big year for many local school board elections and each is of vital importance.

Of all the 2018 primary political signs that were spread throughout the city where I reside, at least three of four deal with local school board elections.

This is not an anomaly. I cannot remember a time in an election cycle in which the majority of roadside political signs of local and state office did not refer to the school board elections. Those elections are that important because so much is at stake.

The largest part of a state’s budget tends to be toward public education. A major part of a school board’s (city or county) identity is how it helps students achieve within what resources and funds are available. In North Carolina, where a state general assembly tends to pass more fiscal responsibility to LEA’s (think class size mandate), a school board’s calling to help all students achieve must be met by those who truly understand what best helps schools and students.

No wonder school board elections are so important.

At the heart of a school board’s responsibilities are supporting a selected superintendent, guiding the creation of policies and curriculum, making sure there are adequate facilities, and seeing that budgetary needs are met.

That means understanding what students, teachers, and support staff need. That means understanding how schools operate and how they are affected by mandates and laws that come from Raleigh. And when policies that are handed down from the state that may not treat the local system favorably, then the school board must confront those in Raleigh and help fight for what is best for the local students.

There are 115(+) LEA’s in North Carolina – lots of school boards who should know their students best and know what obstacles that their schools face which need to be removed.

But what if one of those obstacles is the North Carolina General Assembly? Consider a per-pupil expenditure rate that is lower when adjusted for inflation than before the Great Recession. Consider the lack of textbook funds and overcrowded buildings and state mandates for testing that take many school days away from instruction. Consider the funding of unproven reforms like an Innovative School District and vouchers. Consider the growth of unregulated charter schools. Consider teacher pay and local supplements. Consider that there is a drastic reduction in teacher candidates in our universities. That is just a small list.

All of that brings to light what might be one of the most important jobs that a school board must undertake: it must be willing to challenge the state in an explicit and overt manner on matters that directly affect their local schools.

In a state where almost 1 in 4 students lives in poverty and where Medicaid was not extended to those who relied on such services, schools are drastically affected as students who walk into schools bring in their life challenges. If student achievement is a primary responsibility of a school board, whatever stands in the way of students being able to achieve becomes an issue that a school board must confront.

So, is the person whose name is on a political sign for school board candidacy willing to fight for our schools even if it means confronting Raleigh’s policies?

That might be the first question I might ask of any candidate for local school board – the first of many.

What Lawmakers Are Really Saying Is That They Actually Fear A Well-Educated General Public

Two quotes highlighted in a July 10th, 2019 WRAL editorial were really glaring. And that editorial should be required reading because it correctly stated that the NCGA powers-that-be are more interested in giving more corporate tax cuts than fully-funding our public schools.

It was a stunning confession. It says far more than state Rep. Craig Horn probably intended when he recently talked to a New York Times reporter. It revealed a basic truth about the priorities of the leaders of North Carolina’s legislature.

We simply don’t have the money to provide a quality pre-K experience to every child in North Carolina, even though I absolutely agree that a face-to-face, high-quality pre-K is the best option,” Horn told the reporter.

What! North Carolina doesn’t have the money? How could that be? Just look at the bragging from the state’s top legislative leader about our economy.

“The financial and economic state of our state is the strongest it has ever been. North Carolina is booming,” said state Senate leader Phil Berger.

What those two quotes also said in a more covert way is that people like Craig Horn and Phil Berger really do not want to fulfill their obligation as outlined by the state constitution. Why? Because there exists a fear that drives them to do what they do as far as legislation is concerned.

This is what the NC State Constitution states:

(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.

There is one thing that the current powers in the North Carolina General Assembly fear most.

It is not unclean water.
It is not a budget deficit.
It sure as hell isn’t climate change.
It’s not even gerrymandered maps, although all of those weigh in the equation.

It is having a well-educated general public – one that would not allow current lawmakers to be in a position of power to continue to promote an agenda that absolutely favors a few over those they should be helping. And their actions over these last eight-plus years have been a recipe in ensuring their policies remain intact.

Many of those have been very apparent. There is the current debacle of gerrymandered legislative districts. Even the redrawn maps have shown a more-than-obsessive addiction to hold on to majorities in Raleigh.

There was a voter-ID law that was struck down in the judicial system. A determined effort to water down minority voices might have been one of the most open secrets in this state. And now the voter ID law recently passed still cannot decide what ID’s it will accept.

But those unconstitutional actions coincided with other egregious acts that have weakened public education to a breaking point – one that makes the 2020 elections so very important. Those actions have been assaults on public schools coated with a layer of propaganda that keeps telling North Carolinians that we need to keep reforming public education.

What once was considered one of the most progressive public school systems in the South and the nation all of a sudden needed to be reformed? What necessitated that? Who made that decision? Look to the lawmakers who saw public education and the allotted budgeting for public education dictated by the state constitution as an untapped reservoir of money to funnel to private entities.

The public started to see test scores that appeared to be less than desirable even though what and who was being tested and the format of the testing was in constant flux.

The public started to see “school performance grades” that did nothing more than track how poverty affected student achievement. The “schools were failing” to actually help cover up what lawmakers were refusing to do to help people before they even had a chance to succeed in the classroom.

The teaching profession was beginning to be shaped by a business model that does not discern a public service from a profit minded investment scheme which changed a profession of professionals into one that favors short term contractors.

But there are two large indicators that voters in North Carolina should really pay attention to when it comes to the NCGA’s relentless pursuit to quell their fears of a well-educated general public – money spent per pupil and tuition costs to state supported universities.

Below is one of many different data tables that shows how willfully the NCGA has made sure to keep public schools from thriving (from  the NC Justice Center’s July 2016 analysis).


And how that per pupil expenditure truly affects schools becomes even clearer when you read reporting that clearly shows how funds are used (and stretched) by school systems.

Furthermore, resources get more expensive over time.

Take Kris Nordstrom’s piece entitled “As new school year commences, shortage of basic supplies demonstrates legislature’s failure to invest”.

This table from that report should be easy to decipher.


Simply put, this is a great example of truth-telling and an equally fantastic exposure of the very fear that the NCGA has of thriving public schools. Nordstrom states,

“When adjusting for enrollment and inflation, school funding has been cut in the following areas since leadership of the General Assembly switched hands in 2010 (a time period in which the state was already struggling to find resources as a result of the Great Recession): classroom teachers, instructional support personnel (counselors, nurses, librarians, etc.), school building administrators (principals and assistant principals), teacher assistants, transportation, low wealth schools, disadvantaged students, central office, limited English proficiency, academically gifted, small counties, driver training, and school technology. Funding streams for teacher professional development and mentoring of beginning teachers have been eliminated completely.”

  • Don’t we have a state surplus?
  • Don’t we spend millions on validate vouchers that have shown no improvement in student outcome?
  • Don’t we spend millions in legal fees defending laws that are unconstitutional?

The answer is “YES” to all of these.

Remember, our lawmakers are bragging that we are economically thriving. So who is profiting?

The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy conducted a national survey on the attitudes on whether higher education has had a positive or negative effect on our country ( It’s rather disturbing.

More disturbing is that it is not surprising.


Inside Higher Ed highlighted the Pew survey. Paul Fain in his report opened up with this:

“In dramatic shift, more than half of Republicans now say colleges have a negative impact on the U.S., with wealthier, older and more educated Republicans being least positive”(

Might want to see who controls policy in Raleigh.

And those “wealthier, older, and more educated Republicans” who are in control in Raleigh have also enabled state-supported colleges and universities to become more expensive.

At the beginning of 2017 year, WUNC published a report called “Incoming UNC Students Likely To See Tuition Increase” ( In it there is a data table that shows the steady and steep increase in tuition costs for UNC undergraduate resident tuition.


And yes, we are still a bargain compared to other states, but that is an over 70% increase that does not include housing, board, food, supplies, books, travel, and all of the other expenses sure to accompany a college experience.

Is it supposed to make sense that rising tuition costs should accompany lower per-pupil expenditure in public secondary schools all the while boasting of a state surplus in a state that currently has racially gerrymandered legislative districts and an increased investment in a rather robust effort to privatize public schools?

Apparently “yes” to many in Raleigh.

Which is why they say “no” so often to people.

Here’s One For Raleigh: “In the long run school spending increases substantially boost test scores and graduation rates.”

Following educational researchers, journalists, and policy analysts on outlets like Twitter can be incredibly useful in gauging the dialogue that helps to drive policy. Many times it can put into your reach studies that are not only revealing but have concrete data that flies in the face of those pushing “reforms” in public education.

One of those I follow is Kris Nordstrom (@KrisNordstrom).


Matt Barnum is with Chalkbeat, an educational news outlet. He is referencing a study that was just published in The Journal of Public Economics entitled “School district operational spending and student outcomes: Evidence from tax elections in seven states.


Here’s a small summary that Barnum referred to in his tweet.


And here’s this:



North Carolina, you listening?


The Wayback Machine: What New Teachers Got Then Versus Now in NC

Image result for wayback machine cartoonI am currently in my fifteenth year of teaching here in my second stint in North Carolina. Before I moved to the metro Atlanta area, I had taught two other years in the same system where I now work.

When I came back as a “new” teacher, Phil Berger and Tim Moore were not in power. And as a “new” teacher the following was freely given to new teachers as part of the agreement to be employed by the state of North Carolina:

  1. A salary schedule that had step increases for every year of service.
  2. The opportunity to receive due-process rights when I had obtained a continuing certificate after three successful years of teaching.
  3. A schedule that included a seven period day with two planning periods and five classes that were capped in size.
  4. Graduate degree pay as I had obtained my masters degree.
  5. Health benefits as a retiree if I retired as a teacher in NC.
  6. Money paid by the state to pursue National Boards.
  7. Paid professional development from the state as it was in the budget.
  8. The opportunity to receive longevity pay after 10 years of service like other state employees.
  9. The absence of a school performance grading system that weighs test scores over student growth.
  10. The knowledge that all monies designated for public education was actually going to public schools.

If I was to become a new teacher in 2020 with years of Berger and Moore and all of their “reforms,” how many of those would be available to me now?






Thinking About The Leandro Case: What NC Is Spending For Public Schools – 2008-2009 Versus 2019-2020

Last October (10/29), Rob Schofield published a piece on NC Policy Watch explaining the negative effects of the budget that Sen. Phil Berger and others in the NCGA were pushing (and actually are still pushing with the current impasse )in the NCGA.

The second effect dealt with public education.

#2 – Further undermining the state’s desperately underfunded public schools – As veteran education policy analyst Kris Nordstrom explained in July, there are myriad ways to illustrate the damage the state lawmakers are doing to North Carolina’s once-proud and now-threadbare public education system, but here are three that tell you about all you need to know:

  • Overall, the conference budget would have left total school funding 2.9 percent below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for enrollment growth and inflation. This figure underestimates the actual budget pressures faced by North Carolina’s public schools, as schools’ largest cost drivers – salary and benefit costs – have increased faster than traditional measures of inflation.

  • Of the 24 biggest allotments in FY 08-09, 20 of them remain below their pre-Recession levels (see tables here and here).

  • North Carolina would continue to spend significantly less per pupil than South Carolina.

The tables referred to in the second bullet point are as follows (credit to Kris Nordstrom):

While the second table does not have a dollar amount attached to the figures, what it shows is that not as many classroom teachers, support personnel, and administrators are being financed now as they were a little over ten years ago.

Just for clarification, the US Inflation Calculator states that from 2008 to 2019, we have experienced a cumulative inflation of %19.3.


And NC also has a public university system that it supports.

In 2008-2009, this was the cost of attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill per semester.


$2698.38 for resident students. That would translate to…



But this is what it is now.



And don’t forget, NC has a really big state budget surplus according to Phil and Tim and Tim wants to be chancellor at ECU according to rumors.

The Only Real Conclusion About NC’s School Performance Grades Is That Too Many of Our Students Live In Poverty in a Gerrymandered State

Below is a map provided by that plots the most recent school performance grades across North Carolina.


Next is a map of the economic well-being of each NC county as reported be the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

2019 County Tier Designations


The LIGHTER the shade of blue, the more economic “distress.” This is how it was determined according to the site.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a Tier designation. This Tier system is incorporated into various state programs to encourage economic activity in the less prosperous areas of the state.

The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3.

Review the 2019 County Tier Designations Memo (published November 30, 2018)

County Tiers are calculated using four factors:

  • Average unemployment rate
  • Median household income
  • Percentage growth in population
  • Adjusted property tax base per capital

The next map is of poverty rates as reported by the Port City Daily on Feb. 18th, 2018.

As of 2016, 17.3 percent of the New Hanover County population lives in poverty. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service)

Below is a map that considers what areas in NC are considered rural.

shows darker green rural areas

“The darker green areas are more rural according to most definitions. Courtesy of the Sheps Center for Health Services Research.”

From the North Carolina Alliance For Health:

That is a map that represents death rates in conjunction to economic transactions and income rates.

And this is from the It concerns low access to grocery stores.


And then there is access to hospitals. Also from North Carolina Health News:

map indicates the average distance to care for each north Carolina county. Shows that residents in rural counties need to travel further to get care.

Rural areas have a shortage of almost every type of provider. In North Carolina, 20 counties do not have a pediatrician; 26 counties do not have an OB-GYN; and 32 are without a psychiatrist, according to the interactive North Carolina Health Professions Data System.

Now go back to that map of the school performance grades.


See a pattern?

Teachers Should Be Political, Especially Here in North Carolina


In the state of North Carolina, over 56% of the state budget is dedicated to public education, most of which goes to K-12 (and pre-K) education.

It’s specifically stated in Article IX of the state constitution that the state establish a free and viable means of educating school age-children.

Sec. 2.  Uniform system of schools.

(1)        General and uniform system: term.  The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.

That alone makes education a political issue.

If lawmakers, especially those with the most power in Raleigh today, control the fate of funding and measuring public schools, then it is impossible to separate politics and public education.

And with the elections coming in November (and primaries in less than two weeks) under the shadow of gerrymandering and a recently struck down Voter ID law as well as a budget impasse, it almost begs for any public school teacher or advocate to do something that sounds like taboo to some: becoming political.

When 20,000 teachers and public education supporters marched and rallied in Raleigh on May 16th, 2018 , they didn’t go to the offices of the Department of Public Instruction; they went to the General Assembly because that is where policy is decided. They did the same thing a year later.

Those who decide and craft policy tend to look at education from the outside in. It has been no secret that much of the educational “reform” that has occurred in this state has been without much (if any) teacher input. And many of those same lawmakers who are up for reelection this November have taken actions to lessen the power of collective teacher voices: career status and due-process rights removed and lack of graduate degree pay bumps to name just a few. Those are political actions.

When NCAE was targeted by the NCGA on its automatic deduction of dues from paychecks it was a political move to lessen the strength of the largest teacher advocacy group in this right-to-work state. (And Phil Berger and Dan Forest can’t stop talking about them either.)

Education simply is clothed by politics.

So when somebody says that teachers should not be political, then that person needs to explain how a teacher cannot be political and still advocate for schools and students. In fact, this teacher would say that all public school teachers and advocates should be very political this election year.

This state has a wide gap in the urban / rural divide. Actually, it’s not wide; it’s expansive. To say that all of the public school teachers in this state have the same partisan leanings is foolish. This state has about as (roughly speaking) as many people registered as democrats as republicans with a healthy dose of independents. North Carolina is about as purple as it gets. In 2016, over 10,000 people who voted for Donald Trump as President also voted for Roy Cooper to be governor.

And everyone has a stake in public education whether it is directly as a parent or student or employee of the school system or as a taxpayer.

Education is political. But it hasn’t always been this partisan.

Write a blog or a bunch of op-eds and you will receive criticism in many forms. Some of it will be negative and personal and because you argue against what Raleigh is doing with public education you may be tagged with partisan labels.

That’s fine. Teach public school long enough and you will come across lots of criticism of the occupation and the perceived performance of our schools. Actually constructive criticism might be one of the best gifts anyone can receive.

It’s funny that decades ago, public education was championed by both democrats and republicans alike. Think of governors like Holshousher and Martin and you will see a commitment to funding public education like NC saw with Sanford, Hunt, and Easley. The governor’s office and the General Assembly were often in different hands politically speaking, but on the issue of public education, they stood much more united than it is today.

The surest way to advocate for public schools is to make sure that those who are in power as politicians are pro-public education, not just with their words, but with their actions. That’s politics.

Education is a political issue.

Teachers and public school advocates should be political as well; therefore, vote.

About That Pathetically Inadequate Common Core Survey From Mark Johnson

Last week in a politically motivated stunt, State Superintendent Mark Johnson decided to use DPI’s ties to Powerschool’s database to send out a survey concerning a fabricated campaign platform.

Actually it’s a red-herring – a smelly fish meant to distract the senses from the truth. Not to mention unethical.

Just look at the survey – six questions with about as much statistical substance as a bag of rocks.


Wonder if he would show the distribution of the answers based on the above.


That’s not a loaded question at all. Most people who are not in education couldn’t really answer that question at all because “effective path to success” might be one of the most vague concepts used to fuel Johnson’s “reform” narrative.


Really? Just because someone has heard of Common Core does not mean he/she really knows what it is. Actually, Johnson doesn’t really know what it means. Why? Because three years ago, he was a virtual no-show in realigning standards in 2017.



Imagine how many people would have answered “Not sure” if they understood what they really don’t understand about Common Core.



That has nothing to do with Common Core. That’s a cover for Dan Forest’s personal finance class. As is this next question.



So, this week Mark Johnson releases the results of the survey.



71,000 people completed the survey. He never tells you the distribution of respondents depending on if they were teachers, parents, or other “stakeholders.” And Johnson says that the “survey clearly demonstrates how important the issue is on NC.”

Actually, he only got a response from less than 2% of those who can legally cast a vote – no ID needed.



That’s a pathetically inadequate survey.

But good for gas-lighting.


Letting Rep. Tim Moore Become Chancellor Of East Carolina University…

… would be like letting an arsonist loose in a drought-ridden forest and giving him matches and gasoline to play with knowing that someone else would have to pay for the damage.

Please do not forget that the assault on public education in North Carolina by people like Tim Moore and Phil Berger has not been targeted exclusively at K-12. It’s been on our public university system as well. Too many things have happened in synchronicity.

Remember Tom Ross’s ouster that wasn’t political?

Then former Bush Secretary of Education Margaret was brought in. Remember she was a main cog in No Child Left Behind?

Look at all of the turnover in the UNC Board of Governors and its being shrunk?

Silent Sam scandal that was done behind closed doors?

The recent ECU debacle?

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One Year Ago Tonight – That “Dinner” and Mark Johnson’s #NC2030 Plan

No, I was not invited to the “Dinner” exactly one year ago. I was at a school function with some incredibly talented students trying to raise money for the Drama Department to keep the arts vibrant in our school.

But many people shared quotes and there was a live stream video and, of course, Johnson likes to send emails. It keeps him from having to talk to teachers who are critical of his ineptitude. Here’s what he offered right before he went on stage.


The first aspect of the video I noticed was that there were a LOT OF EMPTY SEATS. Why could those seats not have been filled with actual teachers? Johnson did call them the “most important components” in public education. It reminds one of what Johnson’s spokesperson, Drew Elliot, said in response to criticism of having not invited lots of teachers. He had said that “half” the room would be “educators.” I would like to know how many were actual teachers. And I know of TOY’s who were not invited.

From WRAL:

Responding to criticism about the event being private, Elliot said 700 people will be there, as well as the news media.

“We can’t afford to rent out Panthers Stadium,” he said.

There were not 700 people there. That room would not have filled many press boxes at Panthers Stadium.

But it is the initiative of the #NC2030 – BEST PLACE TO LEARN / BEST PLACE TO TEACH that really was interesting here because the reason it cannot be #NC2020 is because of Johnson himself.

It was 2019. Johnson was elected in late 2016. And in his first “speech” as state superintendent on January 6, 2017, he remarked,

“Complacency is the antithesis of urgency. So I ask that we not be complacent, and act with urgency in anything that we do.”

Urgency? Two years later and a lavish dinner to a private audience to announce initiatives for public schools that supposedly are to help fix maladies that ail North Carolina’s public school system?

In his first two years as state super, Johnson had literally fought for NOTHING. He had been on the sidelines as a lawsuit over how much puppetry can be done through his office played out, conducted small listening tours, given cursory surveys, and eaten doughnuts.

Let it not be forgotten that NC had at one time before the Great Recession one of the most progressive and successful state school systems in the Southeast. Then a wave of ALEC inspired initiatives to “reform” education started to be put into place by the current powers in the NC General Assembly and we ended up here exactly one year ago.

At a dinner.

To announce that it will take over ten years to get us back.

Johnson talked about the need to recruit and keep good teachers. Maybe that was a personal observation considering that he himself spent maybe two years combined training and actually teaching.

Johnson applauded that the average teacher salary was well over $50,000. It would have been nice to hear him explain how that can be sustained with the current salary schedule and the fact that that average is bolstered by those teachers who are veterans and have graduate degree pay which is no longer available to newer teachers.

Johnson said that NC needs to strive to be more like Massachusetts. Did he mean more like a state that produces senators like Elizabeth Warren, is almost as “blue” as any state in the country, that spends way more money on public education, and was the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act?

Johnson said that four devices are all that were needed to “personalize” education in a classroom. The main part of “personalize” is “person.”

Not devices.

And when he announced the TEACH NC initiative he named those who had partnered in it:

  • DPI

If you consider what DPI’s structure has been changed into with the appointment of a bunch of charter school champions, you could say that he has privatized that very entity to a large degree.

BESTNC is nothing more than a lobbying group with money that operates behind the scenes, does not engage teachers authentically, and was the architect of a horrible principal pay structure still under scrutiny today.

GATES? Nothing more need be said.

BELK & COASTAL? They don’t sound so “teacher” involved. They sound like money.

What Johnson announced with TEACH NC was another “business” driven reform for a public good.

The Wallace Foundation and the development of a Leadership Dashboard “to support their human capital strategies with real-time data?”

That sounded like EVAAS multiplied by school performance grades then multiplied by standardized tests scores then multiplied by other secret algorithms and then that entire sum raised to a large positive integer’s power.

In other words, teachers just became data points even more.

How is that for personal?

And there was no talk at that dinner of how to combat the very things that impeded student achievement. No talk of poverty. No talk of the natural disasters that afflicted many school systems. No talk of expanding health care to students. No talk of how to change the fact that over %20 of our students live in poverty.

What happened that night was a yet another indication of the intentional disconnect that Johnson and his ilk have with what needs to be done with public education in NC.

in less than a month he could be sent out of Raleigh after his lame duck term.